How Jackie Kai Ellis's passion for food inspired a journey of self-discovery
Jackie Kai Ellis's memoir, The Measure of My Powers, invites you to judge it by its cover. It features roses arranged with fruits, resting on deep-blue fabric. The dark but alluring cover reflects the story inside. In the memoir, Ellis writes about her life before her success as a baker, writer and entrepreneur. She could have focused on those accomplishments; instead she gives a raw account of the years she spent struggling with depression and an eating disorder. The Measure of My Powers tells of how her passion for food helped her rediscover and love herself.
The reluctant writer
"I knew that in order to write a memoir that's worth reading, you need to write about all the horrible moments you're still ashamed of. In order to make the beautiful moments make sense, you need to tell both sides of the story. I thought, 'If I'm scared and I want to do this, then that is all the more reason to jump head first into it.' It was through writing The Measure of My Powers that I finally realized I was my most courageous during the times I felt weakest."
"There was a time in my life that I was suffering from a very deep depression and suicide was an everyday thought. The moment I woke up in the morning, I would think of one thing that would give me a reason to live for that day. Eating a chocolate chip cookie was the one thing that kept me going for many months. It was the idea of something so comforting and solitary that I was doing for five minutes, having a coffee and a chocolate chip cookie, with no one to please — this was simply for myself. That got me obsessed with baking and eventually took me to pastry school in Paris.
"I later built my bakery with all sorts of plans, but nothing could have prepared me for the immediate success that came. I had no idea what I was doing — it ran on pure passion, obsession and insanity."
"I always say that if you're born Chinese, you're born a foodie. I was raised in a family where all we talked about was food — we were a family of food critics. My family are very good eaters, so they know how to course correct because they can taste when something's wrong. But food is a tool that can be used for good and to hurt you as well. I would write in diaries every calorie I ate. I've been asked how I could use food as a reward, but at the same time be bulimic. It was in Paris, expecting that this was going to be the only time in my life that I could taste all these foods that I only read about in food memoirs, that I allowed myself to take pleasure in food with abandon. I let go of the fear that food would harm me and I let it nourish me emotionally and physically for the very first time."
Jackie Kai Ellis's comments have been edited and condensed.